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Quitting Junk Food Produces Similar Withdrawal-Type Symptoms as Drug Addiction

Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered something you probably already know: It can be hard to quit sugar or junk food in any form. Whether it’s a gnawing craving for pizza or an undying desire to nosedive for that sugary latte you like to pick up at the coffee shop every day, it can be hard to give up junk food in any form.

The reason for this, the researchers explain, is because junk food addiction is real — just as real as a drug addiction — and the withdrawal symptoms are real too. From sadness to irritability to tiredness to unending cravings pulling you back to the foods you’ve just given up, junk food addiction withdrawal symptoms not only are real, but can be the one thing standing in your way to good health.

The correlation between food addiction and recreational drug addiction is striking and, as the featured article suggests, likely stronger than you may suspect. I’ve talked about food addiction several times in my newsletters, most recently in an interview with Dr. Pamela Peeke, an internationally recognized expert in integrative medicine, nutrition and fitness, and the author of The New York Times best-seller book, “The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction.”

The underlying cause of food addiction has to do with the dopamine center of your brain, and how certain food products, notably refined and processed “hyperpalatable” foods containing high amounts of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats hijack your brain’s reward center. By so doing, they cause changes in your brain identical to those found in alcohol and drug addiction, and there is where the fight begins when you decide to give up junk foods.

To overcome food or any addiction, you need to understand how your brain perceives pleasure and reward, and work toward redefining pleasure for your brain. Interestingly, research shows that the changes taking place in the brains of drug addicts and food addicts are identical as they fight their addictions.

If you are feeling trapped in an addiction and are wondering what steps you can take to find relief, in addition to seeking professional help, you may want to try exercise and mindfulness meditation. With respect to exercise, physical activity prompts neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, which contributes to healing in your brain's frontal cortex and reward center.

Similarly, meditation has been shown to epigenetically turn off inflammatory gene groups, while turning on genes responsible for increasing neurogenesis. As such, both activities are important with respect to long-term recovery from addictions of any kind.

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